Becoming Christ Through Grace
As the Church continues to celebrate the Easter Season, for many of us it is during this time that our families gather to celebrate First Communions, Confirmations and marriages. These sacraments are so joyful because they are marked by a sense of hope and a future that seems boundless. Perhaps we even can imagine the possibilities for holiness and witness made possible by the grace of the Holy Spirit that is received in each of these sacraments. These sacramental celebrations can also be an experience of renewal for those of us who have been fully initiated into the life of the Church and continue to grow day by day in love for Our Lord.
Every reception of the sacraments strengthens our likeness to Christ. Through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, Christians become Christ-like. Saint Catherine of Siena, whose feast we celebrate today, did not hesitate to remind those in authority of this, exhorting them to take off self-love and clothe themselves in Christ and his charity (Catherine of Siena, Letters, T268). By this affection for Jesus, we become more conformed to the only-begotten Son, she said, because “love transforms the lover into the object loved” (The Dialogue, 60). This is what the Spirit of Love gives us: the life of the God-man. We become partakers of the divine life (2 Peter 1:4); but we also come to share in Jesus’ perfect human life.
When we are baptized, we too receive the “Spirit of Christ” (Romans 8:9, 1 Peter 1:11), the Spirit of Jesus (Acts 16:7) and we take on the character of Jesus who was anointed in the Spirit. We live not only with our own meager virtues, but with the grace of Jesus himself, given us by the Spirit.
Everyone has some degree of virtue by nature, and we can grow in good habits, thanks to the training from parents or teachers. But life presents many obstacles, and even our best qualities are not enough to get us through a day without some failure. Our good habits are too often offset by the lingering effects of original sin and our own personal sin. We grow impatient with others and we think uncharitable thoughts. We give into selfishness. We avoid people who are suffering. We neglect friends and family members. Yet, what Catherine of Siena learned from Jesus is that these situations are the very opportunities to grow in holiness.
In prayer, Saint Catherine hears the Lord say to her:
“I have told you how to serve your neighbors, and how that service proves your love for me. Now, I will go further. You test the virtue of patience in yourself when your neighbors insult you. Your humility is tested by the proud, your faith by the unfaithful, your hope by the person who has no hope. Your justice is stirred by the unjust, your compassion by the cruel, and your gentleness and kindness by the wrathful. Your neighbors are the channel through which all your virtues are tested and come forth to birth, just as the evil gives birth to all their vice through their neighbors” (The Dialogue, 8).
We learn in the Sacrament of Confirmation that it is the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit – wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, fear of the Lord – that are God’s way of completing and perfecting our natural virtues and acquired habits. Grace does not destroy nature, but builds on it. The God who created us is the God who redeemed us in Christ – and now sanctifies us in the Spirit. With the indwelling of the Spirit, we receive what we need to live our waking hours as the saints we are called to be. We can live our days as Christ, sharing in the gifts that are his in the Spirit.